National Issues

The sage-grouse front

By Garett Reppenhagen

From The Hill

I had to wrack my brain to be sure, but I am:  In all my time in the military, including as a sniper inIraq, I can’t recall a sage-grouse being a part of my unit, or any unit.  And I certainly cannot recall any sage-grouse being dishonorably discharged or selling military secrets to our enemies.

The only reason I went back to make sure of that is because, somehow, language aimed at ending protection of the bird and its habitat has been submitted as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds our military, and takes care of the men and women in it.

While there are a lot of people working on conservation of the bird, and obviously some opposed, that’s not the issue. The issue is using an inappropriate venue to advance a political agenda of some western legislators on the backs of men and women in uniform.

Understanding that a stand-alone bill is likely dead, the sage-grouse amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), seems bent on shoe-horning in his political will on the rest of the nation, while doing nothing to advance the cause of better funding for ground forces, better pay for active duty personnel or restoring housing allowance cuts that put our military forces close to the poverty line. That is what the focus of the NDAA should be—not sage-grouse.

Regardless of all of that, the military has successfully been working to protect vital habitat for sensitive species for decades, anyway. Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers have co-existed at Camp Lejeune with Marines since 1970 – even longer than the Endangered Species Act has been in existence. Despite the rhetoric from the amendment’s sponsor, the military can, has, and will continue to coexist with the indigenous animal population around its training grounds.  It simply isn’t a very big deal.

In fact, Joshua Brandon, Project Cohort Program Manager, former Army Infantry Officer, and three-time Iraq veteran, recently spoke to the sage-grouse directly: “In the four years I trained for combat operations at the Yakima Training Center in Washington as an infantry company commander and battalion operations officer, the sage-grouse never once negatively impacted our unit training and combat readiness. Even during times of increased operational tempo, with multiple units constantly using the training center, we worked with local land managers to alter the execution of our training to account for the sage-grouse restrictions.

Combining operational adaptability with a bit of imagination, we were able to conduct major live fire operations on alternate sites, and when the sage-grouse restricted areas were in required training areas, we altered the scenario to regard these zones as sensitive cultural sites, minefields, or severely restrictive terrain that actually enhanced our younger leader’s operational training experience.”

When you consider the facts, it is clear that the sage-grouse is one of the many issues tacked onto the NDAA that are not relevant to America’s security needs. As a result, one of the most important bills in Washington is at risk of being packed with favors for special interests. Americans, and our men and women in uniform, know this bill is too important to be meddled with. It should be focused on our military’s need – not the needs of special interest groups.

It’s a sad commentary on a sad time in Washington that hot meals for our troops have to take a back seat to one legislator’s campaign against a western bird.  Just when you think Congress’ approval ratings can’t get any lower, they go and try to pull a stunt like this.

If we must address the issue of the sage-grouse, now, then the best possible option is for all stakeholders – federal agencies (like the Bureau of Land Management, the Dept. of Agriculture, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), state agencies, local governments, sportsmen, ranchers, businesspeople, and private landowners – work together to create viable management plans to protect sage grouse habitat and bolster sage-grouse populations.

At the first sign of the sage-grouse’s interest in joining al Qaeda, or even if it just leaves its post without permission from a superior, we can talk about ending protections for the bird as a part of the military funding bill.  Heck, if a sage-grouse forgets to bring extra socks and won’t shut up about its feet, I might even write a whole op-ed about how we should end protection for it.

Until that time, the best option for our military is for leaders like Rep. Bishop to set aside special interest politics when setting our most important priorities.

Reppenhagen served as a U.S. Army cavalry scout sniper in the 1st Infantry Division in Kosovo and Iraq and currently works as the Rocky Mountain director of Vet Voice Foundation.

The reason sea levels are rising faster

Scientists say carbon emissions must fall quickly to avoid ‘worst-case scenario’ sea-level rise

By Emily J. Gertz


Sea-level rise has sped up over the past decade and continues to accelerate at a rate of about 12 percent a year.

For the first time, scientists have been able to show that the reality of sea-level rise aligns closely with projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said Christopher S. Watson, a climate scientist at the University of Tasmania in Australia and coauthor of the new research, published Monday in the journal Nature.

The IPCC is the United Nations’ scientific group for assessing the advance and impacts of climate change.

For coastal nations, accelerating sea-level rise could mean more deaths and injuries—as well as greater damages—from storm surges and flooding in the next several decades.

“In Australia, there’s about $226 billion worth of infrastructure in the way of that sea-level rise, and that’s before you take into account the ecosystems,” Watson said. Looking to the northern hemisphere, “Hurricane Sandy is a good example [that] the previously once-in-a-lifetime floods are going to become a lot more frequent.”

Two hundred thirty-three people died in the U.S., Canada, and Caribbean nations during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which caused almost $1 trillion in direct damages—including more than $68 billion in the New York metropolitan area alone.

With the New York area’s sea level already a foot higher than it was a century ago, experts have estimated that powerfully destructive storms on the order of Sandy will occur up to four times more often by the time a baby born today is 85.

Last year, the think tank Global Climate Forum estimated that globally the dollar costs of sea-level-related disasters could rise from $25 billion per year (on average) to upwards of $100,000 billion per year by 2100. Countries must increase their spending on flood and storm protections by tens of billions of dollars, the group recommended, to cut the deaths, injuries, and economic costs of such climate change–driven disasters.

But barring a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades, Watson said, the world is on track to hit the IPCC’s “worst-case scenario” of a three-foot global sea-level rise by 2100.

The earlier projections, which suggested that sea-level rise was slowing down, did not factor in that larger geological forces cause land in many places to sink or rise, Watson said. “To achieve the accuracy that we want for sea-level studies, you have to take into account those very small motions,” he said, even if it’s only a few tenths of an inch per year.

To get an accurate picture of sea-level rise, Watson and his colleagues combined measurements from tide gauges around the world—the traditional method for tracking sea levels—with global positioning system measurements of land height since 1993. The combined data reduced the figures for mean sea-level rise by 15 percent, from 0.13 inches a year to between 0.09 and 0.11 inches. But by taking into account land motion, the scientists demonstrated that total sea-level rise is accelerating by 0.002 inches a year.

International negotiations are already under way to reach a binding global treaty on controlling greenhouse gas emissions. They will come to a head late in 2015 at a Paris conference. Observers already fear that whatever comes out of these talks will be too weak to hold off the worst impacts of climate change.

Rising temperatures, caused by burning fossil fuels, are raising sea levels in two primary ways. Oceans, which cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, are absorbing about 90 percent of the increased heat, causing seawater to expand and take up more room in the ocean basins.

The higher temperatures have also increased the melt rate of the world’s two largest ice sheets, on Greenland and West Antarctica, as well as mountain glaciers worldwide. Eventually, water from these land-based stores flows into the ocean, raising the sea level further.

“It’s like turning on another tap in the bathtub,” said Watson.

The next step in the research is to look more closely at regional rates of sea-level rise, which can vary considerably owing to local geology, ocean currents, and other factors, he said, so that nations and cities can plan effectively for an even hotter, wetter future.

“I think that our agencies, regionally, need to consider the impact of rising sea level and plan accordingly,” Watson said. “The community has the right to consistent info on these things. I think there are parts of the world where that information has been inconsistent.”

“Adaption is going to happen,” he added. “Sea level is rising, full stop. We need to be able to adapt, and the community needs better information to be able to do so.”

This land is YOUR land: Tell Congress to stop attacking it

From The Wilderness Society

America’s shared public lands are under unprecedented assault from anti-conservationists in Congress. In the past few months, we have witnessed near-weekly attacks fueled by special interest lobbyists, bent on gaining access to our wildest lands in order to turn them over to the highest bidder.

Even as you read this, a vocal group in Congress—led by Representative Rob Bishop and Senator Lisa Murkowski—is working to give away our public lands so they can be logged, drilled, mined and otherwise developed. Rep. Bishop has even founded a lawmaker working group with the specific goal of taking over federal wildlands.

Today, we remind you that This Land is Your Land—and you can help defend it.

The months ahead will be a battleground for conservation as more of their measures surface for consideration in Congress. With your help, we will not be outnumbered.

If America’s lands are handed over to special interests, they’re lost forever. Your voice matters because these are your lands. Without your help, our national forests, wildlife refuges and other wildlands could be mined, drilled, clear-cut and sold off.

Tell your members of Congress to push back on the assault against wildlands—remind them that This Land is Your Land!

$58 million approved to protect waterfowl and other bird species

From the Outdoor News Daily

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission today approved $58 million in funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to purchase, lease or otherwise conserve more than 200,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds across North America.

“Wetlands provide vital habitat for wildlife, purify groundwater and protect communities from storms,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Michael Bean. “With so many millions of acres of wetlands lost over the years, it is impossible to overstate the importance of North American Wetlands Conservation Act and Duck Stamp funding in setting aside and conserving them. We all benefit from healthier ecosystems and more abundant fish and wildlife.”

Of the total funds approved by the commission, $25 million will be provided through North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants to conserve more than 85,000 acres of wetlands and adjoining areas in 16 states. NAWCA is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. To date, funds have advanced conservation of nearly 8 million acres of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 states, engaging more than 3,300 partners in nearly 1,000 projects. NAWCA grants are funded through federal appropriations, as well as fines, penalties and forfeitures collected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; from federal fuel excise taxes on small gasoline engines, as directed by the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act; and from interest accrued on Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act funds.

Examples of projects include:

Texas Gulf Coast: This project will restore and enhance an additional 2,800 acres of wetland habitat on private and public lands, providing important migration, wintering and breeding habitat for more than 304 bird species.

North Dakota Great Plains: This project is phase eight of a multi-year effort to establish, enhance and protect valuable wetland and associated upland habitat. This phase will conserve more than 13,000 acres of habitat for northern pintail, long-billed curlew, mallard and many other species.

Virginia/North Carolina: The ACC Wetlands Conservation Initiative will conserve 2,745 acres of diverse habitat, including bottomland cypress-gum swamp, emergent wetlands and pine forest. Habitat for 10 priority or high priority waterfowl species will be protected, including canvasback, black duck and greater scaup.

Grants made through this program require matching investments; the projects approved today will leverage an additional $58 million in non-federal matching funds.

Many bird species spend parts of their life cycles outside the United States, meaning effective conservation must address the needs of these species beyond our national boundaries. This is why projects funded through NAWCA occur throughout North America, to ensure a comprehensive approach to the protection of migratory birds and their habitats. This year, the commission approved a total of $21.6 million for 12 projects in Canada and $2.7 million for 12 projects in Mexico.

The commission also approved expenditures of $8.8 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve 16,044 acres for nine national wildlife refuges, through fee-title land acquisitions and lease renewals. These funds were raised largely through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps.” For every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents go directly to acquire or lease habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Duck Stamp program has been in place since 1934 and has raised more than $800 million to acquire more than 6 million acres for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The 2015-2016 Duck Stamp will go on sale June 26.

The commission also welcomed new members: Sen. Martin Heinrich (NM) is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, an avid sportsman, and a member of the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus. He was appointed to the commission in January. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA) was appointed to the commission in March, replacing Rep. John Dingell (MI), who served on the commission from 1969 until his retirement in 2014. Thompson was a co-author of NAWCA and was recently inducted into the California Waterfowler Hall of Fame.

Renew the conservation fund

By Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack


Rarely does Congress pass a law that is applauded by Republicans and Democrats alike, benefits every American and doesn’t require the expenditure of a single dime of tax revenue. Today (April 22), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of one landmark law that fits all three of these criteria: the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.

The act, signed into law a half-century ago by President Lyndon Johnson, takes a small portion of the money collected from oil and gas development in federal offshore waters and invests it into conservation and recreation projects for the benefit of all Americans. The act gives back part of what we take from nature by providing green space and outdoor recreation opportunities in communities across the country.

For 50 years, the law has been regarded as one of the most successful programs for recreation and conservation investments in our history. In partnership with local communities, the fund has enabled the construction of more than 40,000 city parks, hiking and biking trails, boat ramps, access to thousands of acres of fishing and hunting areas, and the protection of important wildlife habitats.

If you rode your bike on a trail near your house or watched your child play a Little League game recently, or enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail, there is a good chance that the Land and Water Conservation Fund helped make it possible.

Just yesterday, the Department of the Interior announced $3 million in investments from the fund that will enable eight cities to construct or enhance parks in underserved neighborhoods. These improvements range from the renovation of a degraded urban storm water system into a community asset in Mobile, Ala., to the conservation of 4.5 acres of prairie in Denver that will protect water quality, provide wildlife habitat and offer the public hikes, gardens and educational programs.

Besides enhancing the neighborhoods we live in, these funds also help protect working forests that fuel our rural communities and provide hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities. Implemented in partnership with states, the Forest Legacy Program enriches efforts to protect privately owned forest lands in order to meet state goals to protect air and water quality, protect important fish and wildlife habitats, and sustain an important source of timber.

By effectively leveraging taxpayer dollars through a cost-share requirement in the Forest Legacy Program, $669 million has secured land two times the size of Delaware, valued at more than $15 billion.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September, unless Congress votes to reauthorize it. If it is not reauthorized, local communities could be left without a critical source of funding for outdoor recreation, and hundreds of projects waiting in the pipeline for grants might never come to fruition.

More is needed than reauthorization, however. President Obama has asked this Congress to permanently guarantee that the full $900 million in oil and gas revenue called for under the law actually goes to support these projects, as originally intended when it was enacted.

Only once in the fund’s history has Congress provided full funding. Each budget cycle, anglers, hunters, ball players, outdoor enthusiasts and city dwellers alike have all been shorted, as funds are siphoned off for other purposes.

The importance of this funding cannot be overstated. We live in an era when people — especially young people — are increasingly disconnected from the great outdoors. If we are going to raise a new generation with healthy lifestyles and a connection to nature, we must provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation and more green spaces, particularly in urban areas.

Some might argue that investing in recreation and conservation is a luxury we can’t afford. In reality, we can’t afford not to: Outdoor recreation is a huge economic engine that contributes an estimated $646 billion in consumer spending — twice the amount consumers spend on household utilities, gasoline and other fuels or on pharmaceuticals — and supports 6.1 million jobs — nearly three times as many jobs as the oil and gas industry and more than the finance and insurance sectors.

A half-century ago, Congress made a historic commitment to the American people. As a result, we have irreplaceable natural, historic and recreational outdoor places that otherwise might not exist or might have been lost.

It is time for today’s Congress to fulfill this commitment by reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Jewell is the 51st U.S. secretary of the Interior, serving since 2013. Vilsack is the 30th U.S. secretary of Agriculture, serving since 2009.

Senate budget carries harmful amendments

From the FLYER

National Wildlife Refuge Association

In late March, the House and Senate each passed budget resolutions outlining their spending plans for the next fiscal year and into the future. These set the tone for the appropriations bills that will become law and future stand alone legislation.

Unfortunately, a few very concerning amendments were considered or added to the Senate budget resolution.

One of the amendments that was adopted would give support and funding for state efforts to take over federal lands. It excluded the sale of National Parks, National Monuments, and National Preserves but left the door open to sell our national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other public lands. Three Republican Senators (Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee) crossed party lines to oppose this amendment but they were ultimately defeated. The amendment passed by a vote of 51-49.

Another concerning amendment would gradually have removed nearly $400 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) budget and given it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a sister agency in the Department of Interior. Luckily the amendment did not succeed – but the intent was clear that some lawmakers support severe cuts to the budget of the Service.

Although it’s true that the budget and these amendments are not law, they set a dangerous precedent and certainly set the mood of this Congress about our national wildlife refuges and other public lands – apparently selling our lands to the highest bidder is something this Congress is very willing to consider.

We all need to remind our elected officials that our refuges and other public lands are what sets us aside from other nations – we believe in our public lands and we do not believe they should be sold.

TU: House bills undermine Clean Water Act

From The Outdoor Wire

Two U.S. House of Representatives committees passed separate bills the week of April 20 that would severely hinder the effort to restore protections to America’s headwater streams under the iconic Clean Water Act.

One bill, approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw a rulemaking proposal that restores protections to small, headwater streams within 30 days. The second bill, passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, would prevent the Corps from funding the enforcement of the proposed clean water rule that would protect headwaters.

“Both of these actions characterize the ongoing attack from Congress against the Clean Water Act,” said Brian Zupancic, government affairs manager for Trout Unlimited. “Small headwater streams are the lifeblood of our fisheries, providing clean water and food to downstream fish populations, as well as seasonal spawning and rearing habitat. Rather than give the Corps and EPA the chance to offer a final rule to clarify protections for these vital waters, Congress is stepping in now to pre-judge the outcome and block the process.”

The clean water rule is currently being finalized by the EPA and the Corps. It received an outpouring of public support during the rulemaking comment process, and was crafted in response to two Supreme Court rulings in the 2000s. Essentially, the court weakened Clean Water Act protections from small headwater streams and advised the EPA and the Army Corps to prove a nexus between small headwaters and the big rivers they feed. With the science done, and the connection proven, the new clean water rule simply reinstates the protections the Clean Water Act granted to small waters for the first 30 years of the act’s existence.

“The rule is nothing radical. It simply makes sure some of the most important waters in the country are given the protections they deserve and that they once enjoyed,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager, wetlands and water resources for the National Wildlife Federation. “Both the EPA and the Army Corps are working to address congressional concerns in the final rule. Rather than play politics with clean water, Congress should let the rulemaking process run its course.”

“The legislation advancing in the House is an affront to sportsmen everywhere, who have made it clear they want the agencies to produce a final rule that clearly restores clean water protections hunters and anglers can rely on,” said Jimmy Hague, director for the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Instead, Congress is bent on derailing a deliberative rulemaking process before we even have a chance to see the impact sportsmen and many other stakeholders had during the public comment process. Congress should reverse course on these bills and reserve judgment until the process has run its course.”

Sage-Grouse Merchants of Doubt

By Mark Salvo

Defenders of Wildlife Blog

There’s a new documentary making the rounds, getting high reviews, and for good reason. Adapted from the acclaimed book, Merchants of Doubt by Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes and NASA historian Erik Conway, the film by the same name is a cutting exposé on strategies by certain industries to spend huge amounts of money to employ “highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire” who muddle the discourse (and facts) on public health and safety. Their goal: to create uncertainty about well-established public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to cigarette smoke to climate change. The first step in their campaign: question scientists and discredit their work.

Now industry has unleashed this tactic on current efforts to protect sage-grouse. Last week, a coalition of industries and some western counties filed petitions with the Department of the Interior challenging the science that serves as the foundation for the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy. This unprecedented planning process aims to improve sage-grouse conservation on more than 60 million acres of public land. Let’s hope this cynical ploy does not distract states and federal agencies from this important work.


Industry has challenged Greater Sage-Grouse: Ecology and Conservation of a Landscape Species and Its Habitat, a monograph written by 38 experts on sage-grouse, sagebrush steppe and land management, published by the Cooper Ornithological Society in Studies in Avian Biology, and printed by the University of California Press. It is the most important work ever written on sage-grouse by all of the most accomplished people who study the species. Sage-grouse © Margaret Sloan

We know more about sage-grouse than most any other wildlife species in the country, thanks to dedicated scientists who have committed their lives to studying the bird. These scientists have published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles on sage-grouse, and recently compiled their decades of work into an impressive monograph on the species. I have worked to conserve sage-grouse for 15 years, and I am privileged to know many of these scientists and to read their work. They are, every one of them, thoughtful, sincere professionals devoted to understanding a complex species and its fragile habitat.

These scientists sounded the alarm on sage-grouse years ago, having documented widespread habitat loss and degradation, and long-term population declines. It is their research that also provides a blueprint for restoring the species and its habitat. If put into practice, their recommendations could protect and recover sage-grouse, and also benefit hundreds of other species that depend on the sagebrush grasslands. But failure to take these steps could result in further declines of sage-grouse and their habitat.

The latest industry challenges to sage-grouse science follows sobering news that firms spent at least $9 million last year lobbying Congress on sage-grouse issues. The biggest spenders were Anadarko Petroleum Corp. ($3.1 million), National Rural Electric Cooperative Association ($2.1 million) and Chesapeake Energy ($1.8 million). Safe to say, they probably were not lobbying for stronger protections for the species.

It’s beyond time to protect sage-grouse and the quintessential western landscape where they live. Doing so benefits everyone. Instead of undermining the effort by trying to discredit science, industry should join with federal agencies and states, conservationists and other stakeholders to protect and recover this remarkable bird.

Wolf attacks becoming a costly problem in greater Minnesota


Grand Forks, ND

There’s a lot of “huffing and puffing” going on in Greater Minnesota, and it’s costing the state a lot of money.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says wolf attacks are becoming a pricey problem. Just ask third-generation Hinckley farmer Nathan Nelson; he says wolves attacked and killed 10 of his calves. “It’s a big problem,” he said. Nelson’s neighbor dealt with a similar situation as did dozens of other farmers mostly up north in cities like Bemidji, Roseau, Grand Rapids and Aitkin.

“Their livestock gets prayed on often, and unfortunately that’s a huge economic impact for that family and that family’s farm,” Minnesota Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Charlie Poster said.

The state has a program to help reimburse farmers. The problem is that the price of cattle is way up; right now, a 500-pound calf goes for around $1,500.

Just in the first three months of this fiscal year, the state paid out more than $70,000 because of wolf attacks. Multiply that by four to get a rough projection for the whole year, and you get more than $280,000, which is more than double what the state paid for wolf attacks for all of last year.

“The value has gone up so much,” Poster said, “we’ve actually exhausted the appropriations.”

Poster says Gov. Mark Dayton wants the wolf depredation fund to double. The Department of Agriculture is also touring Greater Minnesota, teaching farmers like Nelson how to access funds and protect their livestock.

“They’re going to continue to eat,” Nelson said of the wolves, “whether it’s deer or our livestock or whatever it is.”

Poster said Minnesota’s wolf depredation fund started in the 1970s when the Endangered Species Act was passed. He explained that farmers could no longer protect their livestock themselves, so the government agreed to pay for losses caused by wolves.

Minnesotans were briefly allowed to hunt gray wolves until late last year when a federal judge reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for the animal about three years after wolves were removed from the list.

Lesser Prairie-chicken successful first year

From the Outdoor News Daily

On March 31, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) its first annual report detailing achievements under the Lesser Prairie-chicken (LPC) Range-wide Conservation Plan (RWP). Among other highlights, the estimated lesser prairie-chicken range-wide population increased by 20 percent to around 22,400 birds, industry partners committed $45.9 million in fees to pay for mitigation actions, and landowners across the range agreed to conserve nearly 40,000 acres of habitat.

“The results from the first year of RWP implementation clearly demonstrate that both industry and landowners are willing to conserve the species,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s grassland coordinator. “Private industry’s willingness to avoid and minimize impacts to lesser prairie-chickens is evident, and where those impacts were unavoidable, they paid mitigation fees to offset those impacts on cooperating landowners’ properties. As a result, all industry impacts were offset with conservation agreements during this first year.”

A key RWP goal is to engage private landowners in habitat conservation, since farmers and ranchers control much of the land within the bird’s estimated 40 million acre range in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado. The annual report notes six landowner contracts were finalized during the reporting period March 1, 2014-February 28, 2015. WAFWA paid out $117,357 in signup incentives to landowners for enrolling 37,767 acres of lesser prairie-chicken habitat and anticipates paying landowners another $5 million for conservation practices over 10 years pending annual maintenance reviews.

Another key component of the RWP is cooperation of energy companies and other industry sectors operating within the bird’s range. During the first year, 174 oil and gas, pipeline, electric, wind energy, and telecommunication companies enrolled in agreements with WAFWA to avoid, minimize, or mitigate their operations. In the process they committed $45,877,823 in enrollment and impact fees to cover off-site mitigation actions for unavoidable impacts.

Significantly, the amount of habitat impacted by industry development decreased 23 percent, primarily due to a consolidation of oil and gas developments under the RWP. About 700 project agreements were authorized to offset impacts to lesser prairie-chickens from various development activities. This means companies were actively selecting areas that already had prior development for new project siting or actively selecting areas of lower quality habitat, and in doing so minimized the impact of their operations on lesser prairie-chickens and their habitat.

“WAFWA has made tremendous strides in implementing the RWP during this first year, and is on target to accomplish their 10-year goals as outlined in the RWP and endorsed by the USFWS 18 months ago,” said Ross Melinchuk, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council chairman. “The Endangered Species Act and accompanying 4(d) rule, together with the RWP, provide a blueprint for conservation of this species. Given time, improvements in habitat, and the return of more favorable weather conditions across the species’ range, we should see a continued increase in lesser prairie-chicken populations across the range in the coming years.”

To help industry avoid and minimize impacts, a decision support tool known as the Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT), developed through the Western Governors’ Association, was used to spatially represent focal areas and connectivity zones where conservation actions will be targeted to expand and sustain the species. In addition, a project estimator tool was incorporated into the CHAT to facilitate pre-planning for development to reduce impacts to the bird. Since February 1, 2015, the estimator tool has been receiving an average of 87,570 hits per week signaling its utility to industry.

In addition to RWP achievements, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), a complementary program administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), approved 23 projects across the species’ range in 2014 that will improve more than 180,000 acres of LPC habitat on privately-owned land through prescribed grazing and brush management. Through the LPCI program, landowners will be paid $2,935,894 for implementing conservation activities benefiting LPCs. Through LPCI and the RWP, nearly a quarter million acres have been targeted for LPC conservation in the first year of RWP implementation.

The RWP is an adaptive management framework that allows for the review and incorporation of new information as it becomes available and to make adjustments to maximize conservation benefits to LPC. The Lesser Prairie-chicken Advisory Committee comprised of private landowners and representatives from industry, non-governmental agencies, state and federal agencies, provided input and feedback through this framework. During the past year, in addition to identifying research needs for the species, adjustments were made to the timing of surveys, the burial of power lines, and the delineation of impact buffers through this adaptive management process.

Details about RWP plan goals and year one achievements are in the full annual report, which is available on the WAFWA website at